Former Top Official Implicated in Ayotzinapa Case Still Eluding Authorities

07/29/21 (written by rramos) – Authorities in Mexico continue to face difficulty in capturing Tomás Zerón de Lucio, the ex-director of the Criminal Investigation Agency (Agencia de Investigación Criminal, AIC) in the administration of former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) who led the Mexican government’s controversial response to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. The inability to detain Zerón represents yet another obstacle to fully resolving the mass disappearance, which has persisted as an enduring symbol of impunity and corruption in Mexico. 

Photo: La Razón de México

According to the New York Times, Zerón, who headed the AIC from August 2014 until widespread criticism of his handling of the probe into the Ayotzinapa disappearances prompted his resignation in September 2016, is currently in Israel even as the Mexican government has requested his extradition. Israeli officials who spoke to the New York Times claimed that the decision to not act on the extradition request is diplomatic retribution in response to Mexico’s frequent criticisms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in various multilateral fora, including at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although Israel’s ambassador to Mexico denied that his government was holding up the extradition for political reasons, he did not indicate whether the Israeli government planned on detaining Zerón, simply stating that they have informed Mexican authorities of the “level of evidence and requirements according to Israeli law” (author’s own translation) needed to carry out an extradition request.

Back in Mexico, Zerón faces various legal proceedings. In March 2020, the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) obtained an arrest warrant against him based on charges related to misconduct during the initial investigation into the Ayotzinapa case. The accusations against Zerón include tampering wth evidence, forcibly disappearing potential witnesses, and using torture to obtain testimony, all part of an alleged effort to distort the results of the inquiry. Current federal Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero also accused Zerón of embezzling “billions of pesos” from government coffers while at the helm of the AIC. An additional arrest warrant was issued in April 2021, this time based on allegations that Zerón had participated in the torture of Felipe Rodríguez Salgado. Known by the criminal alias “El Cepillo,” Rodríguez Salgado is alleged to be a leading figure in the Guerreros Unidos criminal group that has been linked to the Ayotzinapa abductions. Specifically, prosecutors allege that Zerón employed tactics such as death threats and sensory deprivation during Rodríguez’s 2015 interrogation in order to force him to provide confessions that would corroborate the government’s official version of events regarding the disappearance of the 43 students. 

Zerón has dismissed the accusations as “political persecution” on the part of the administration of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024), and has sought political asylum in Israel since January of this year. Although the Israeli government continues to avoid taking action on both the extradition request and the asylum application, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has publicly stated that the López Obrador Administration remains committed to apprehending Zerón, even if the process takes a significant amount of time. 

Zerón Case Highlights Broader Corruption-Related Issues in Mexico

Although President López Obrador vowed to reexamine the Ayotzinapa case upon assuming office in 2018, progress towards bringing the perpetrators to justice has remained frustratingly slow. The continuing fallout from the disappearance of the 43 students, including the ongoing saga involving Tomás Zerón, serves as a reminder of some of the foremost corruption-related challenges in Mexico. 

The allegations against Zerón underscore the persistent impunity enjoyed by members of security forces involved in human rights abuses. Indeed, some have suggested that Zerón’s alleged tampering with the investigation was intended to downplay the possible role of military and federal police officers in the forced abductions. Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer representing the families of the 43 missing students, has stated openly that he believes that the Peña Nieto government sought to protect members of the Army and Federal Police that may have been involved in the mass kidnapping by putting forward an official version of events that focused heavily on municipal police officers. 

Furthermore, the Zerón case highlights the ever-present risk of politicized investigations and prosecutions in Mexico. As mentioned earlier, Zerón has denounced the corruption charges against him as politically motivated. This is not the first time that corruption probes have been criticized as being weaponized for political reasons. Former officials like Ildefonso Guerrero and Rosario Robles, both of whom served as cabinet secretaries in the Peña Nieto government, have rejected corruption investigations against them as “political persecution.” Accusations of the use of corruption investigations as a political tool are not unique to the current López Obrador administration and have persisted for decades, representing a major impediment to genuine efforts to build Mexico’s capacity to combat corruption. 

While a future arrest of Zerón to face the charges against him in Mexico could be a step towards full resolution of the Ayotzinapa tragedy, longer-term progress in Mexico’s broader struggle against corruption will depend on successfully addressing various systemic challenges that have allowed impunity to persist in the country.   

Sources:

Daly, Catherine, Heinle, Kimberly, & Shirk, David. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012. 

Vela, David. “Tomás Zerón renuncia a la Agencia de Investigación Criminal de la PGR.” El Financiero. September 14, 2016.

Maciel, Alejandro. “Venganzas y traiciones: los presos de los presidentes de México.” Los Angeles Times. August 9, 2018. 

Meyer, Maureen & Hinojosa, Gina. “A cinco años, no hay justicia para los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos de Ayotzinapa.” Washington Office on Latin America. September 24, 2019. 

“Tomás Zerón, exfuncionario de la PGR, encara una orden de aprehensión.” Expansión Política. March 18, 2020. 

Castillo, E. Eduardo. “Warrant issued for Mexico’s ex-head of investigations.” Associated Press. March 18, 2020. 

Nájar, Alberto. “Caso Ayotzinapa | ‘se acabó la verdad histórica’: qué supone el giro en la investigación de la desaparición en México de los 43 estudiantes.” BBC News Mundo. July 1, 2020. 

Barrera, Jorge. “Mexico wants Canada to turn over former top cop wanted in alleged cover-up of missing Indigenous students.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. July 14, 2020. 

“México debe reformar las fuerzas policiales.” Human Rights Watch. July 24, 2020. 

Meyer, Maureen, Indacochea, Úrsula, & Hinojosa, Gina. “Where Does Mexico Stand in its Fight Against Impunity?” Washington Office on Latin America. August 2020. 3,5. 

“Tomás Zerón se robó mil millones de la PGR, en pago por caso Ayotzinapa: Gertz Manero.” Aristegui Noticias. September 26, 2020. 

“Tomás Zerón, implicado en caso Ayotzinapa, tramita asilo en Israel.” El Economista. January 14, 2021. 

Rodríguez García, Arturo. “Zerón solicitó asilo político en Israel; se insistirá en su extradición, aunque lleve tiempo: Ebrard.” Proceso. January 14, 2021. 

García Soto, Salvador. “Ayotzinapa, ¡sí fueron los militares!” El Universal. January 21, 2021. 

“Rosario Robles se declara inocente de permitir el desvío millonario de recursos.” El País. March 26, 2021. 

Alzaga, Ignacio. “ Giran nueva orden de aprehensión contra Tomás Zerón por caso Ayotzinapa.” El Financiero. April 27, 2021. 

Lastiri, Diana. “Tomás Zerón suma nueva orden de captura por verdad histórica del caso Ayotzinapa.” El Universal. April 27, 2021. 

“El misterio de Ayotzinapa.” Semana. June 19, 2021. 

“‘El que nada debe, nada teme’, dice AMLO sobre investigación contra Ildefonso Guajardo.” Animal Político. July 12, 2021. 

Bergman, Ronen & Lopez, Oscar. “Former Official Wanted by Mexico Takes Refuge in Israel.” New York Times. July 15, 2021. 

Esquivel, J. Jesús. “Israel rehúsa atender pedido de extradición de Zerón por postura de México ante Palestina: NYT.” Proceso. July 15, 2021. 

Gandaria, Manrique. “¿Por qué Israel no extradita a Tomás Zerón a México?” El Sol de México. July 15, 2021. 

Salinas Maldonado, Carlos. “Israel se niega a extraditar a Tomás Zerón.” El País. July 15, 2021. 

“Embajador niega que Israel retrase la extradición de Tomás Zerón para vengarse de México.” Proceso. July 20, 2021. 

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United States Will Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister Cienfuegos

Photo: Bill Robles, Associated Press

11/18/20 (written by rkuckertz) – In an abrupt and unexpected reversal, the United States Department of Justice has announced that it will drop all drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. The announcement came as a shock after a months-long investigation led to the secret indictment and subsequent arrest of Cienfuegos by U.S. officials.

The former defense minister (2012-2018) was arrested in Los Angeles on October 15, 2020 after he was indicted on various drug trafficking and money laundering counts, including conspiracy to import and distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The arrest shocked the Mexican public, as Cienfuegos is the first high-ranking Mexican military official to be arrested in the United States in connection with organized crime. The evidence against him pointed to his involvement with the H-2 cartel in exchange for bribes. Blackberry messages obtained by U.S. investigators detailed these alleged crimes, which included facilitating drug shipments into the United States and introducing cartel members to officials willing to accept bribes. Following his arrest, the former security official was transferred to a New York detention facility where he awaited trial in New York’s Eastern District.

However, in a joint statement released on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his Mexican counterpart, Alejandro Gertz Manero, announced the planned dismissal of all charges against Cienfuegos. The attorneys general explained that the decision represented “a strong law enforcement partnership” between the two countries and demonstrated a “united front against all forms of criminality.”

U.S. prosecutors submitted an initial request on Monday before District Court Judge Carol Amon calling for the dismissal of charges. Prosecutors cited “sensitive” foreign policy considerations that outweighed U.S. interests in continuing to press charges against Cienfuegos. While Cienfuegos was scheduled for an initial hearing this Wednesday, it is anticipated that the official request to drop all charges will be granted during his court appearance.

Why Drop Charges?

According to The Washington Post, it appears that the decision was made in an attempt to repair a breach of trust caused by Cienfuegos’ arrest–a move that U.S. officials kept secret from Mexican authorities. Following the arrest, Mexico submitted a formal note of protest to the U.S. Department of Justice. Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard also expressed the country’s disapproval directly to Attorney General Barr on two occasions over the past month. Several U.S. officials agreed that the unilateral approach to Cienfuegos’ arrest was misguided. For instance, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, the former head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the move “very odd,” adding that he would have expected Mexican authorities to be informed prior to the arrest.

Some Mexican security experts believe that had the United States not returned Cienfuegos, the Mexican army would have ceased all bilateral cooperation on counter-drug and security operations. Similarly, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney general’s office in the Eastern District of New York speculate that the dismissal of charges can be attributed to threats to limit the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Mexico. Ebrard seemed to confirm these notions, stating that bilateral cooperation against drug trafficking would continue, but only if the United States respected Mexico’s sovereignty.

Still, the decision to drop charges against Cienfuegos is unprecedented. Mike Vigil, the former DEA chief of foreign operations, told The Los Angeles Times that he “…had never seen anything like this occur in [his] lifetime.” He also expressed doubt that Mexican authorities would fulfill their commitment to prosecuting Cienfuegos, adding that he considers the likelihood of this “slim to none.” While the joint statement released by Barr and Gertz Manero noted that the United States would provide evidence to Mexico for its ongoing investigation, Mexican judicial authorities have not made any official commitments to charge Cienfuegos.

Defending Mexico’s Military

While former defense minister Cienfuegos served under AMLO’s predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, President López Obrador has demonstrated approval of the military leader’s role in leading the armed forces through times of crisis and upheaval. During the transition between administrations, AMLO called Cienfuegos “an extraordinary general, a man of institutions.”

Under the current administration, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has gone to great lengths to defend the use of Mexico’s military in the fight against organized crime. A cornerstone of his anti-corruption platform, AMLO has sought to expand the role of the military in policing and security operations. Despite human rights concerns expressed by civil society and international organizations, Mexico’s citizenry seems to support López Obrador’s militarized tactics against organized crime. However, it remains to be seen if recent allegations of corruption against top military officials will sway public opinion. This may depend, in part, on how Mexico chooses to proceed with the investigation and case against Cienfuegos.

For his own part, AMLO has made sure to draw a stark contrast between military operations under Peña Nieto’s administration and his own. He has defended both the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) as institutions that have ensured the security of the Mexican public. Nonetheless, individuals directly connected to the former defense minister Cienfuegos continue to operate within Mexico’s security apparatus.

Sources

“US to Drop Drug Charges against Mexico’s Former Defence Chief.” Aljazeera. 18 November 2020.

Brooks, David. “EU retira cargos a general Cienfuegos; se le investigará en México.” La Jornada. 17 November 2020.

Ferri, Pablo. “EE UU retira los cargos al exsecretario de Defensa Salvador Cienfuegos para que sea juzgado en México.” El País. 17 November 2020.

“Joint Statement by Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr and Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero.” The United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. 17 November 2020.

Kuckertz, Rita E. “Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials.” Justice in Mexico. 19 October 2020.

McDonnell, Patrick J. & Kate Linthicum. “In a Stunning Reversal, U.S. Drops Charges against Mexico’s ex-defense Chief.” The Los Angeles Times. 17 November 2020.

Mosso, Rubén & José Antonio Belmont. “A petición de la FGR, EU se desiste de cargos contra Salvador Cienfuegos.” Milenio. 17 November 2020.

Sieff, Kevin; Mary Beth Sheridan; & Matt Zapotosky. “U.S. Agrees to Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister.” The Washington Post. 17 November 2020.

Krauze, León. “The Arrest of a Mexican General Should Be a Turning Point for AMLO and the War on Drugs.” The Washington Post. 22 October 2020.

Two Former High-ranking Federal and State Officials Face Charges of Corruption

11/10/20 (written by kheinle) — The López Obrador administration’s efforts to root out corruption continue, this time with two officials at the federal and state level facing charges.

Corruption at the Federal Level

Luis Videgaray, the former Secretary of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Credito Público, SHCP) during the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018), is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption, electoral crimes, and possibly even treason. He allegedly received millions of dollars through the Brazilian-based business Odebrecht, the high-profile case of corruption that the López Obrador administration is working to untangle. A judge initially blocked the warrant for Videgaray’s arrest. Prosecutors are now working to “perfect” the language and justification for the warrant before resubmitting the request.  

Luis Videgaray. Photo: Cuartoscuro, Animal Politico.

Former CEO of PEMEX (Petróleo Mexicano), Emilio Lozoya, named Videgaray in the case. Lozoya, who is currently facing charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering, is cooperating with officials as his case unfolds. Videgaray is one of a handful of high-profile persons that Lozoya has accused of corruption. This includes former Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), and even President Enrique Peña Nieto under whom he served. In August 2020, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero, Lozoya named Peña Nieto and Videgaray in the Odebrecht scandal, saying that he handled millions of dollars’ worth of bribes on both of their behalf, reported the Washington Post.

The targeting of former presidents in alleged criminal acts while in office compliments President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy. The current president has pushed forward a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative on October 22 with a vote of 272 in favor and 116 against. Having now passed through Mexico’s Congress and with the backing of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN), the Mexican people will vote on the plebiscite in June 2021.

Corruption in the Capital

In addition to federal level cases of corruption, the López Obrador administration is also targeting state- and local-level actors, like Raymundo Collins Flores who is accused of misdirecting public funds for personal gains and abuse of public office. As El Universal describes, Collins held a number of high-ranking positions in Mexico City. This included the former Under-secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) in 2002, the former director of the Housing Institute (Instituto de Vivienda, INVI) from 2012 to 2018, and the former Secretary of Public Security in 2018.

Raymundo Collins Flores, seen left, and the 41 classic, high-end vehicles found on his property in Morelos. Photo: La Jornada.

An order for Collins’ arrest was issued in December 2019, but subsequently blocked by a judge. A second order was released in September 2020. On October 30, Mexican officials raided Collins’ property in the State of Morelos where they found over 40 high-end classic cars and expensive works of art, among other items. The day after the raid, Mexican officials requested that the United States extradite Collins back to Mexico to stand trial. He had fled while the investigations against him were unfolding. Although he has been located in the United States at the time of this writing, it is not clear if U.S. officials have yet complied with the extradition request.

Corruption within the AMLO Administration

Despite President López Obrador’s efforts to address corruption, his administration is not immune. According to the Secretary of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública, SFP), more than 500 complaints of wrongdoing were filed against the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) since the president took office in December 2018. They include allegations of corruption, bribery, embezzlement, illegal use of public office, and other internal irregularities.

Over 75% of the complaints (296 of 388) registered from December 2018 through June 2020 were against the Institute of Security and State Workers Social Services (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE). Another 125 complaints against all offices were registered from late June to the end of October 2020, showing a noticeable increase in pace from the previous 18 months. Of the more than 500 cases in total during President López Obrador’s time in office, the Secretary of Public Administration noted that not one has been brought before the federal courts

It is encouraging to see the progress being made against former high-level officials like Videgaray and Collins involved in cases of corruption. Yet the results of the SFP’s investigation ought to be a reminder to the López Obrador administration to not lose sight of its own workers in the here and now.

Sources:

Alarcón, Juan Carlos. “Raymundo Collins no extorsionó a empresarios; denuncias pesan contra excolaboradores.” MVS Noticias. January 6, 2020.

López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption.” Justice in Mexico. July 14, 2020.

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Former aide ties Mexican ex-president Peña Nieto to millions in bribes.” Washington Post. August 11, 2020.

Fuentes, David. “Dictan segunda orden de aprehensión contra Raymundo Collins, extitular del Invi.” El Universal. September 8, 2020.

“President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption.” Justice in Mexico. October 20, 2020.

Jimenez, Horacio. “Diputados avalan consulta de AMLO para enjuiciar a expresidentes.” El Universal. October 22, 2020.

“Quién es Raymundo Collins, exfuncionario al que le aseguararon 41 autos clásicos.” El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Ruiz, Kevin. “Catean domicile de Raymundo Collins en Tequesquitengo; aseguran 41 autos clásicos.El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Quintero M., Josefina. “Fiscalía solicita a Estados Unidos la extradición de Raymundo Collins.” La Jornada. November 1, 2020.

Lastiri, Diana. “Realizan 500 denuncias por corrupción, pero ninguna llega ante jueces.” El Universal. November 2, 2020.

“FGR sobre Videgaray: no nos han negado orden de aprehensión y reunimos más pruebas.” Animal Político. November 3, 2020.

Reuters. “AMLO confirma que juez negó orden de aprehensión contra Videgaray solicitada por la FGR.” El Economista. November 3, 2020.

President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption

10/20/20 (written by kheinle) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is throwing the weight of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de México, SCJN) behind a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. In a move that is politically charged and controversial, the president’s referendum seeks to allow for former Mexican presidents to be investigated and held accountable for potential criminal acts conducted while in office.

President Andrés Manual López Obrador at a press briefing in July 2020. Photo: Marco Ugarte, The Associated Press.

The Referendum’s Target

The referendum specifically looks at the administrations from the last three decades, including former Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-2000), Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). There is only one other former Mexican president still alive, Luis Echeverría, but President López Obrador did not name him in the proceedings. Those that were named, however, are accused of being involved in “privatizations rife with cronyism, spiraling violence, and an increasing concentration of wealth,” writes The Guardian.

Nevertheless, none of the five former presidents named in the referendum have any open criminal cases against them. Rather, this referendum would simply allow for the possibility that they – and future presidents – be investigated and prosecuted for alleged crimes committed in office. Article 108 of the Mexican Constitution protects sitting presidents from being charged while serving, unless the wrongdoings pertain to treason and serious crimes against the common good (“por traición a la patria y delitos graves del orden común”). President López Obrador’s referendum would simply open the door for action to be taken after the president leaves office.

The Supreme Court’s Involvement

In September 2020, President López Obrador presented the referendum along with 2.5 million signatures in support to Congress. Mexico’s National Election Institute is currently verifying the signatures on the petition to ensure the validity of the registered voters. They have a 30-day window allotted from the time the document was submitted to complete their check.

The Supreme Court holds a virtual hearing on October 1, 2020. Photo: JusticiaTV, Vivo.

In the meantime, the referendum proceeded to the Supreme Court in early October, which ruled in a vote of 6 to 5 that the referendum was constitutional and could proceed. Notably, however, the Court modified the verbiage in an 8 to 3 vote to read that investigations could be brought against “political actors,” not “ex-presidents. The judges voted to “neutralize and simplify” the wording, writes Animal Político. The language specifically changed from President López Obrador’s version, which read:

“Está de acuerdo o no con que las autoridades competentes con apego a las leyes y procedimientos aplicables, investiguen y en su caso sancionen la presunta comisión de delitos por parte de los expresidentes Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón y Enrique Peña Nieto, antes, durante y después de sus respectivas gestiones.”

The version approved by the SCJN now reads:

“Estás de acuerdo o no en que se lleven a cabo las acciones pertinentes con apego al marco constitucional y legal para emprender un proceso de esclarecimiento de las decisiones políticas tomadas en los años pasados por los actores políticos encaminado a garantizar la justicia y los derechos de las posibles víctimas”

The final step in the referendum’s approval process will be held in June 2021 when the plebiscite, as it is technically called, will be put before the public for a vote. This will coincide with the midterm congressional elections. Writes The Guardian, President López Obrador “wants ‘the people’ to give the green light to any legal proceedings against the country’s former presidents.”

AMLO’s Progress on Corruption

President López Obrador made combatting and uprooting corruption in Mexico one of his major political platforms and election promises. His first year in office was rather quiet in terms of concrete action against corruption. In December 2019, however, one of the first big cases of corruption was unveiled with the arrest and extradition of former Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna in December 2019. García Luna faces four counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and making false statements, charges that he pleaded not guilty to in October 2020.

Then, in July 2020, two more high-profile cases of corruption came to fruition. This includes a case of corruption, embezzlement, and financial irregularities against the former governor of the State of Chihuahua, César Duarte. Additionally, the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Emilio Lozoya, was also extradited to Mexico from Spain to face similar charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering.

In September 2020, another case broke involving seven government officials who are accused of accepting bribes from federal police officers. The accusations allege that more than 2.5 million pesos were illegally diverted from federal funds through money laundering between 2013 and 2017.

Then, on October 16, 2020, Mexican were again reminded of the systemic corruption ingrained in their government when the former head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested in Los Angeles. He faces charges in Mexico of ties to organized crime and drug trafficking. Read more about that story here.

Sources:

“Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas.” Justice in Mexico. December 19, 2019.

“López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption.” Justice in Mexico. July 14, 2020.

Agren, David. “Mexico’s Amlo proposes referendum on prosecuting country’s ex-presidents.” The Guardian. September 15, 2020.

Barajas, Abel. “Piden amparo siete exfuncionarios por desvíos en Policía Federal.” El Diaro. September 21, 2020.

“El Senado envía al INE 2 solicitudes de consulta ciudadana para poder enjuiciar a expresidentes.” Sin Embargo. September 22, 2020.

“Corte aprueba consulta ciudadana pero saca a expresidentes de la boleta.” Animal Político. October 1, 2020.

Marín, Carlos. “Fallo y reacción incomprensibles.” Milenio. October 5, 2020.

Durán, Raúl. “Juez Cogan suspende audiencia de García Luna por ruido de reporteros mexicanos.” Debate. October 7, 2020.

“Mexico’s ex-security chief pleads not guilty to drug charges.” The Associated Press. October 7, 2020.

“¿Avalarán mexicanos propuesta de AMLO para enjuiciar expresidentes?” El Nuevo Siglo. October 10, 2020.

McDonnell, Patrick J. “Mexico stunned by L.A. arrest of former defense chief allegedly on drug cartel’s payroll.” Los Angeles Times. October 16, 2020.

“Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials.” Justice in Mexico. October 19, 2020.

López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption

07/14/20 (written by kheinle) – In the first week of July, the López Obrador administration netted two high-profile cases of corruption. One case includes the former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte. The other involves the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Both suspects will be extradited back to Mexico where they face charges of corruption, among other counts.

Ex-Governor Duarte

Former Governor César Duarte. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Former Governor Duarte was arrested in Miami, Florida on Wednesday, July 8. The Mexican government sought his extradition on corruption charges stemming from an audit of the Duarte administration’s finances. The audit led officials to question “the possible diversion of the equivalent of about $320 million [USD] in government funds in 2016, when Duarte was governor,” writes The Associated Press. According to official documents, there was “significant irregularities” in the administration’s spending. Along with the help of some of his staff, Duarte “embezzled state funds for the benefit of himself and his associates,” the court filings read. He also faces charges of illegal campaign financing. He served as governor of Chihuahua from 2010 to 2016.

Chihuahua Judge María Alejandra Ramos Durán ordered Duarte’s arrest in October 2019 to face said charges. Previous requests had also been made, the first one coming in March 2017 from Chihuahua’s District Attorney. Animal Político writes that since the initial request, Duarte was considered a fugitive and placed on Interpol’s radar. At that time, Duarte was already residing in the United States, where he had swiftly relocated in November 2016 following his time in office. He then proceeded to overstay his temporary six-month visa in the United States. According to Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral Jurado, in the past five years, Duarte amassed more than 50 properties in Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, among others.

The U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Marshals led the effort to capture Duarte. Following the arrest, Santiago Nieto, the director of Mexico’s Treasury’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UFI), commented, “No one is above the law.” Duarte was arraigned in U.S. court on July 10.

Former Head of PEMEX

One week prior to Governor Duarte’s arrest, Spain approved the extradition of Emilio Lozoya. the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Lozoya ran Pemez – Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company – from 2012 to 2016. The suit against Lozoya, which was opened in May 2019, was the first high-profile case of corruption that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched after taking office six-months prior. Spanish officials arrested Lozoya in southern Spain in February 2020. 

Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya and then Governor of the State of México Enrique Peña Nieto at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in 2010. Photo: Flickr.

The former CEO faces charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering. Some of his alleged crimes tie in with the corruption scandal that unfolded with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. According to the Associated Press, “The court documents say Oderbrecht allegedly offered [Lozoya] $6 million [USD] in bribes to get a contract for renovating an old oil refinery. The Brazilian firm allegedly wound up paying him $5 million.” However, the amount received may be significantly higher, according to conflicting media reports. Some sources say that Lozoya “allegedly took more than $10 [million] in bribes from Odebrecht starting in March 2012.” There are also allegations that Lozoya participated in bribery and money laundering with a Mexican fertilizer plant that Pemex purchased at a rate higher than market value.

Although he continues to deny wrongdoing, Lozoya did agree to cooperate with Mexican officials in the investigation. This does not come as a surprise to some, notesThe Associated Press. “…Many in Mexico had expected Lozoya might implicate others in the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, perhaps including former [P]resident Enrique Peña Nieto…” Lozoya had a close working relationship with President Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who himself had faced serious criticism for his administration’s fledgling efforts to curtail corruption.

Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020

Duarte’s and Lozoya’s arrests come on the heels of a report co-published in June by the Americas Society / Council of the Americas and the consultancy firm, Control Risks. The report, “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020,” looks at Latin American countries’ capacity and capability to ‘detect, punish, and prevent corruption.’” The authors criticize President López Obrador for failing combat corruption despite campaign promises to do so. Read more about that report and its critical findings here.

Still, the recent arrests and agreed upon extraditions in July 2020 are two important victories for the López Obrador administration.

Sources:

Harrup, Anthony and Juan Montes. “Mexican Investigators File Corruption Charges Against Pemex Ex-CEO.” The Wall Street Journal. May 27, 2019.

“Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem.” Justice in Mexico. June 11, 2019.

Simon, Roberto and Geert Aalbers. “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020.” Americas Socity / Council of the Americas and Control Risks. June 8, 2020.

“Corruption in Mexico Persists Despite Campaign Promises.” Justice in Mexico. June 24, 2020.

“Extreme corruption on charge sheet of Mexico’s ex-oil chief.” The Associated Press. July 6, 2020.

“Spain court approves extradition of Mexico’s former oil chief.” Al Jazeera. July 6, 2020.

“Ex-Mexico governor arrested in Miami on extradition request.” The Associated Press. July 8, 2020.

“César Duarte acumuló 50 propiedades en tres estados de EU, indica Corral.” Animal Político. July 9, 2020.

“César Duarte comparece mañana a través de video en Miami.” El Universal. July 9, 2020.